Effective Web Design (or “How to Make a Great Website”)

What is effective web design? It’s kind of like art… you know it when you see it. But when I was asked to present at the 2013 Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism about “Effective Web Design,” I had to take a step back to think about how effective web design happens. And after that, how do you present this idea to a large and diverse audience?

So I created the following presentation: Effective Web Design (or “How to Make a Great Website”). I’ve abridged this version from the presentation given at the Governor’s Conference to focus on the six not-so-easy steps. It was presented to a predominantly “client-side” audience; the pronoun “you” below refers to “the client” in most cases.

Here are the notes that went along with the presentation, giving a bit more detail for each of the six steps.

STEP ONE: Understand why you’re designing (or redesigning) a new website.

Understand what your business goals are. Are you trying to increase visitation? Reservations? You have a new brand to present? If you’re not sure why you’re designing or redesigning your site, you’re going to have a hard time explaining what you want to accomplish to an agency. Which leads to Step Two…

STEP TWO: Hire the right interactive agency – an agency that understands Step One.

Step One is all about figuring out WHY you’re designing or redesigning your website. Not HOW, not WHAT it needs to do, but WHY you need to do it. The right interactive agency will be able to not only help define and clarify your WHY, but take it and figure out WHAT and HOW to do it.

You’re hiring an expert you can trust, and trust is a huge part of any successful relationship. Our most successful projects with our clients are built on relationships where trust is the foundation. One of the first steps in building trust between a client and an agency is having transparency and setting parameters. Communicating things like anticipated budget and timeline help determine effort (effort = time = cost). An agency can come back with any number of solutions for a project, but if the solution isn’t within the client’s required parameters then it isn’t a viable solution. Having open conversations about parameters sets everyone up to be more successful and start a foundation of trust.

STEP THREE: Commit 100% to the process. Know that it isn’t going to be easy!

Don’t put in 90% of the effort to make a project great. Question your agency. Question yourself. Know you’re going to need to invest 100% into this process.


What is the one thing – or couple things – you can do/offer/present better than anyone else? What is the one thing – or couple things – people are coming to your site to accomplish/learn?

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. In order to be successful you have to FOCUS on what makes you different and unique. Focus on why someone needs to come to your site vs. other online resources.

STEP FIVE: Don’t underestimate content creation.

Content creation is the heart and soul of your website. It makes you unique. It determines site design, hierarchy, architecture and content management. It sets expectations on publishing frequency, meaning how often you’re going to update it.

It is a LOT of work. Content creation should be considered at the BEGINNING of a project. If the agency doesn’t know what kind of content you’re going to have, they won’t know what to do with it. See Step One and Step Two.

STEP SIX: Continuous improvement.

Launching a website is just the beginning. Even when you launch a great website, if you don’t continually improve it based on visitor needs, analytics, changing content initiatives, and technology, it won’t be a great website for long.

For example, we launched TravelOregon.com a year ago. Since then we’ve adjusted some of the navigation, ad placement, page designs, and how content is published. If you think the site is great now, just wait until later in 2013!

To recap…

Effective web design isn’t easy. It’s an ongoing process built on a successful relationship between a client and an agency. Keep these six steps in mind when you go though this process and you’ll be on your way to building an effective (and even great!) website.

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